It’s no secret that JK Rowling wrote the Harry Potter series following the death of her mother. There are multiple mother figures throughout the series and their actions always have rather large consequences for Harry. Dealing with her grief, JK Rowling set out to write the story of an orphaned boy who saved the Wizarding World and in doing so she changed my world.
May is Mental Health Awareness month and as a person who lives with mental illness, Harry Potter was instrumental in getting me through some of the rougher patches in my life and will no doubt help through the inevitable tough times yet to come. When I was first diagnosed I felt a mixture of relief and shame. Culturally, in the Black community, mental illness is not really discussed and if it is it’s seen as a lack of inner strength, faith, or a personal failing, or at least that’s been my experience. Even though I’m not religious and never really subscribed to that type of thinking, growing up around people with those beliefs made an impact that was hard to shake. Therefore, while I was relieved for a logical explanation to my illogical thoughts and actions, I also felt ashamed that if I decided to seek professional help I was admitting to myself and those around me that I wasn’t strong.
Harry Potter has always been a refuge for me, a place of comfort when the world became too much to face. This did not change after my diagnosis, my bond to the story only grew deeper and the knowledge that JK Rowling was able to create this in the midst of depression, helped give me hope for what I could do and accomplish. It’s not just the existence of these books, always there to keep me company, that have helped me. The themes, characters and even quotes that I, and so many other Potterheads, turn to in times of need.
I am unsure if acceptance would be chosen as a main theme in the Harry Potter series, but it is there. The focus on love is paramount in this series, but love cannot really happen without acceptance. Harry has to accept many things in his life in order to fulfill his destiny. One of those things is that destiny itself. Harry doesn’t fully understand what he will ultimately be expected to sacrifice to defeat Voldemort but time and again, he accepts the responsibility of being The Chosen One.
Similarly, we may not all be happy with what we have been dealt, whether it’s red hair, a prophecy to defeat the Dark Lord or mental illness. However, like Harry, if we are to accomplish great things we must first accept who we are. If I had not accepted my illness, I would never have been able to start learning how to cope and live with it. Something I learned through the books is things may not always happen in the way you expect, but that doesn’t stop them from happening. You may be expecting your father to cast a Patronus, but it was your Patronus all along. And, of course, just because things are happening in your head doesn’t mean they are not real.
There will be times when you want to give up, things seem to hard and the obstacles too much to overcome. Sometimes your Occlumency teacher has no fucking chill, or your friends and family don’t understand the extent of your pain because it’s not visual or familiar to them. In those times you can feel alone, you can feel like giving up but know that you’re be hurting more than just yourself. As much as I wish it wasn’t the case, people need people and in relying on people, you are relied on in turn. This means your life directly impacts the lives of those you have touched. Your death, also impacts those lives, in some rare cases, inciting war or years of espionage that comes with great sacrifice.
When Harry loses Sirius and then Dumbledore the following year, he undoubtedly feels lost and unprepared for the task ahead of him. However, with his support system, Ron and Hermione especially, he perseveres. Having faith that the lessons he has learned will guide him through and having faith in himself. This is an essential part of growing as a person, you cannot control everything that happens in your life but you can control how you react and persevere.
The uncomfortable truth about mental illness is, not unlike the hunt for Horcruxes, a long and sometimes fruitless battle. Weariness creeps in and you must practice self-care to continue the fight long term. For me, that involves reading my favorite books and watching my favorite movies (Harry Potter falls into both of those camps). When Harry first confronts the Dementors, a creature created as an embodiment of the depression felt by JK Rowling herself, Remus Lupin advises him to eat chocolate. Besides the fact that chocolate is delicious, it is also one of my favorite remedies and knowing that it has magical properties makes me feel much better.
It has been proven that the Harry Potter Generation is more accepting and empathetic than people who have not read the series. While this is usually seen in terms of acceptance of religious, sexual and cultural differences I hope that this empathy includes those with mental illness. The stigma towards mental illness is very much a reality for many people through many walks of life. The theme for Mental Health Awareness Month this year is Life with a Mental Illness and my life before my diagnosis was filled with Harry Potter and it remains a big part of me after my diagnosis. However, with acceptance, perseverance and self-care (among other things), I am able to use my love of this book series to help connect and cope in ways I had never dreamed of before.